x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

The battle for third will begin at the Mestalla

The most attractive fixture in the opening weekend of Spain's Primera Liga is tonight's clash between Valencia and Sevilla at the Mestalla.

Valencia have managed to keep hold of David Villa, left, one of the most prolific strikers in Europe.
Valencia have managed to keep hold of David Villa, left, one of the most prolific strikers in Europe.

The most attractive fixture in the opening weekend of Spain's Primera Liga is tonight's clash between Valencia and Sevilla at the Mestalla. With the battle for the title likely to be between Real Madrid, who opened their league account last night against Deportivo, and Barca who start tomorrow at home to Sporting Gijon, much of today's attention will be focused on the clash between two sides hoping to finish in the top four.

Sevilla finished strongly in third place last season and will be optimistic of success in one of the weaker Champions League groups, while Valencia finished 6th. Los Ches are delighted that they managed to hold on to David Villa and, having raised ?95 million (Dh494m) in a fresh rights issue, financial meltdown is no longer imminent. With an impressive forward line of Villa, Silva, Mata and Joaquin, Unai Emery's side promise much.

Sevilla broke their transfer record in the summer by signing striker Alvaro Negredo from Real Madrid for ?15m. The 24-year-old striker progressed through Real's reserve team before spending the last two seasons at Almeria, where he scored an impressive 32 league goals - almost half Almeria's league tally. Negredo will link up with Freddie Kanoute and Luis Fabiano, the Primera Liga's most productive front pairing.

In tonight's other games, Atletico Madrid travel to Malaga, with their president Enrique Cerezo claiming that in Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero, Simao and Maxi they have the best forward line on the planet. At the other end of the pitch, new goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo looks like their most shrewd signing. Having lost key players, Malaga will do hard to repeat last year's 8th place finish.

Perennial survivors Osasuna entertain Villarreal, who lost coach Manuel Pellegrini to Real but have great expectations from their record signing Nilmar, the 25-year-old Brazilian international striker who will team up with Giuseppe Rossi and Joseba Llorente. Negredo-less Almeria welcome Valladolid, while promoted Xerez will be hoping not to justify their status as relegation favourites as they travel to Mallorca. The Islanders are under new ownership, yet internal struggles continue to undermine the mood.

After progressing in the Europa Cup midweek, Athletic Bilbao host an Espanyol side still recovering from the death of their captain Dani Jarque. Racing Santander, who let eight players got and replaced them with 11 new ones in the summer, welcome Getafe, managed by former Spain international Michel. He is learning to live without last season's key players Granero and Uche, but Getafe should have enough quality to finish mid table.

amitten@thenational.ae Valencia v Sevilla, KO 9pm , Aljazeera Sport + 2